Jack Reacher didn’t light the world on fire, but it’s fine for what it is—a stripped-down, mid-budget, star-driven actioner. Despite the fact that Tom Cruise is all of 5’7” and the titular character in Lee Childs’ series of novels is a hulking 6’5”, he has—even with my father’s constant rantings and railings on the subject—the metaphorical stature to play the role. Through not a bank-breaking success, the first picture made enough cash to warrant a sequel, and we all wanted to know if Cruise could pull it off again in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.
The short answer is that yes, Cruise pulls it off one more time, though boring and convoluted, the surrounding movie sucks all of the the joy out of his performance. When we pick up with the titular badass this time around, the former Major of the Army Military Police is just kind of walking the earth, righting wrongs, jacking dudes who get in the way of justice and piss him off. Working loosely with his replacement, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), when he tries to meet her in person, he finds out she’s been framed for espionage, which kicks off a blandly twisting wannabe thriller woefully lacking in thrills.
There is, however, a great deal of running. So much running. This is a Tom Cruise movie after all, and he must have it written into his contract that he has to spend at least 1/5 of any given film sprinting at top speed. It’s a comical amount of running.
More obnoxious than the tepid, flavorless brew of the plot is the shoehorned-in add-a-kid. In the process of trying to uncover the conspiracy surrounding Turner, Reacher discovers he may be daddy to 15-year-old juvenile delinquent and burgeoning pickpocket, Samantha (Danika Yarosh). Overt emotional manipulation, and wholly unnecessary, this tagalong side quest adds nothing but avoidable length, sighs, and groans to the already pointlessly bloated Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I can only assume they’re setting her up for her own spin-off called Lil’ Reacher, but we’ll have to wait and see on that front.
Cruise doesn’t flex any new muscles here. The Jack Reacher role provides a mixture of deadpan wisecracks and raw physicality that the 54-year-old can play blindfolded and asleep. Maybe the last true movie star in the classic sense, his charm, charisma, and Tom Cruise-iness carry many of his scenes. But he can only legitimately be expected to do so much heavy lifting, and every other element drags the movie kicking and screaming to the bottom of the sea like an anchor tied around its neck.
Nothing stands out about Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Not director Edward Zwick’s (Glory, The Siege) competent but unremarkable visuals, Patrick Heusinger’s attempt at an intense adversary who lacks all motivation, nor the half-hearted attempt to address entrenched, systematic misogyny in the military. Turner is much less hapless than movies of this ilk usually let female characters be, but the script introduces this thematic aside then there’s the distinct sensation everyone involved just waved their hands, said, “Fuck it,” and wandered off. Even the plot holes, unjustified narrative leaps, and a timeline that never quite adds up, aren’t egregious or ridiculous enough to pack much entertainment.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back isn’t exactly lazy, but every element is too easy, unambitious, and the whole package leaves the lingering impression that no one involved except Tom Cruise gives a shit. And even that’s up for debate. [Grade: C-]